Hillary Clinton and the E-mails: A Case Study In Ethics Corruption


I’ve been meaning to write this post for a couple of days now, but haven’t had the heart. Frankly, I am really sick of having to make the same point about the Clintons over and over again—they never learn, and will never change—knowing that so many people will just immediately turn off their brains and run for the rationalizations dispensary any time dishonesty, hypocrisy, deceit or misconduct by one of them is uncovered.

This happens, you see, because the Clinton are perhaps the most prominent among a particular harmful species of individual in our culture, the ethics corrupter. Ethics corrupters are popular, powerful, successful and famous people who, because they are popular, powerful, successful and famous, many citizens conclude that they must also be good and wise, and therefor trustworthy. Since they are (many believe) good and wise, what they choose to do must also be good, and when they are accused of doing wrong, even when the evidence is unavoidable that they have done wrong, there can be only two explanations to those vulnerable to correuption. The first is that the evidence, no matter how strong, cannot be believed, and those wielding it are in fact enemies of right, good, honesty and fairness. The second is that if these good and wise people did it, then what they did cannot be wrong, or can be justified, usually by “the ends justify the means.”

Thus by gaining the trust and admiration of good people, usually through clever use of dishonesty, deception and manipulation, ethics corrupters set their admirers and supporters up to have their own values weakened or destroyed. Richard Nixon caused honest people to defend the covering up of crimes. Charlie Rangel caused people with integrity to support accepting bribes. Bill Clinton made feminists excuse exactly the kind of sexual harassment they persuaded Clinton to sign a law prohibiting, and inspired lawyers to excuse perjury because “everybody lies about sex.” Lance Armstrong made parents who once taught their children not to cheat to defend cheating, because he had a foundation with a noble cause. Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly made TV viewers excuse lying by journalists.

Ethics corrupters make their supporters worse parents, friends, employees, employers and human beings; in turn, those corrupted supporters make society less ethical and more cynical as well. These are genuine cultural polluters; indeed, they are cultural pollution.

Hillary Clinton is an ethics corrupter, and the response to the revelations of her use of exclusively personal e-mails proves it beyond the shadow of a doubt.

There is no benign interpretation of her conduct regarding her State Department e-mails. It was not a mistake; one cannot claim that it was accidental. Since it was intentional, there must have been a purpose, and the only conceivable purposes are unethical ones. According to the 2009 National Archives and Records Administration regulations in effect when Clinton took office, “Agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that Federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system.”  With a private e-mail account and only using that for official correspondence, Clinton did not have a system that ensured such preservation. She, not the system, determined what would be preserved. Anything not preserved or left on her private account would not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Is there any explanation for having a private account only, an justification that is simultaneously responsible, plausible and does not suggest that Clinton wanted to control which of her communications could come before the public and the press?


Moreover, the government takes extraordinary measures to make sure government accounts are secure from hackers, foreign governments, terrorists and Edward Snowden, and even those, as we know, are sometimes inadequate. Private accounts are forbidden for workplace use by lawyer, accountants, business executives and every competent profession and company, because individuals cannot be trusted to protect their communications consistently and reliably. A lawyer—Clinton, you will recall, is a lawyer (unlike her husband, who had to surrender his license because he was too unethical to remain one), and as legal ethics expert Stephen Gillers pointed out last week, if the State Department had been Clinton’s client, she would have been in violation of the legal ethics rules. So what she did was not only wrong, it was dumb and reckless….and you know what? She knows it is—and did it anyway.

Finally, because the conduct was suspicious—we know it is suspicious because so many journalists, analysts, commentators, government employees and citizens are suspicious of it—it raised the appearance of impropriety. The law governing the ethics of government officials, including Congress, judges, and appointees, directs that they must avoid the appearance of impropriety. Clinton did not avoid the appearance of impropriety. She encouraged it.

We therefore begin with the fact that Clinton’s initial official response to the New York Times story reporting her improper e-mail system—“Both the letter and spirit of the rules permitted State Department officials to use non-government e-mail, as long as appropriate records were preserved”—is deceitful nonsense. Since there is no way to determine that “appropriate records were preserved” when the official communications are only on a private server, this means, “no law is broken if everything is turned over, even though this practice makes it impossible to know if everything is turned over.” A classic Clintonism, right out of the “I did not have sex with that woman” playbook.

As for the “spirit” of the rules, the State Department discouraged employees from using private e-mail for government business at least three times while Clinton was at State. In a cable to embassies in 2011 and two sections of its manual for employees, the department directed that the use of private e-mail accounts be limited.  An internal report from August 2012 criticized the ambassador to Kenya for using a non-government e-mail account, and his violation of both the policy and its spirit—exactly as Clinton did—led to his dismissal. From the report:

“He ordered a commercial Internet connection installed in his embassy office bathroom so he could work there on a laptop not connected to the Department email system. He drafted and distributed a mission policy authorizing himself and other mission personnel to use commercial email for daily communication of official government business. During the inspection, the Ambassador continued to use commercial email for official government business. The Department email system provides automatic security, record-keeping, and backup functions as required. The Ambassador’s requirements for use of commercial email in the office and his flouting of direct instructions to adhere to Department policy have placed the information management staff in a conundrum: balancing the desire to be responsive to their mission leader and the need to adhere to Department regulations and government information security standards.”

Meanwhile, the White House, while choosing its words carefully to protect the President’s party’s frontrunner, can only do so much. “The president has a very firm policy that e-mails should be kept on government systems,” senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told Bloomberg. “We believe in transparency and we believe public records, that they need to be captured.” Jarrett then said that she couldn’t say whether Clinton ever sent an e-mail to the White House. [That kind of response is why I’m sick of dealing with the endless deceit and smoke surrounding the Clintons, and Obama as well.

So when paid Clinton spinner Lanny Davis (and whatever other paid liars the Clinton camp puts on TV) says, as he did on MSNBC, “The fact is she did nothing wrong. Hillary Clinton did nothing wrong. Hillary Clinton did nothing wrong as long as they’re preserved and there’s nothing to hide,” recognize this for the lie that it is. “As long as they’re preserved and there’s nothing to hide” is the key. Since Clinton did not follow her own departments policies, there is no way to be certain that her e-mails are” preserved and there’s nothing to hide.”  The policies exist so such uncertainty will not exist. Clinton’s conduct undermined the purpose and functioning of that policy, and that’s wrong. Thus she did do something wrong…very wrong, in fact. Depending on what e-mails she destroyed, perhaps very wrong, even criminal.

I hope the Clintons pay you a ton, Lanny.

Lanny’s not corrupted by the Clintons, however. He’s corrupt already, like Valerie Jarrett. Let’s look at some others that desperate loyalty to Hillary has corrupted, like CNN journalist Gloria Borger. She is so polluted by spending too much time in the muck that she can’t even see that this is not a “brouhaha,” but serious, signature significance evidnece that the Democrats have a Presidential; candidate in the wings who thinks she is above the law and cannot be trusted. What is Borger’s advice to Democrats? Embrace the corruption:

“The truth is simple: Your job is to defend Hillary Clinton, not to bury her. Yes, it can be hard. Even annoying. But think about it this way: If you don’t, her problems become your own.”

Gee, that’s funny, I would have flunked that test:

“You have just discovered that the individual you have planned on presenting to the American people as the next leader of the free world and the successor to the legacies of Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt is a liar, secretive, a scofflaw, and quite possibly everything her political foes have been saying she was, and thus is completely untrustworthy. What is the right thing to do?”

The correct answer, according to Borger: Cover up for her. Muddy the waters, Attack the messengers. Confuse the public.

I bet there was once a time, before Hillary, when Gloria was rooting for Woodward and Bernstein in “All the President’s Men.” Now, it’s clear, she has adopted the reasoning of Nixon’s defenders, at least when Nixon is female, a Democrat, and named “Clinton.” Behold, the power of the ethics corrupter!

The frightening thing—I would think specially frightening if you are a Democrat and want to belong to a party you aren’t  ashamed of—much of the media just assumes that Democrats will be taking Borger’s corrupt advice, meaning that the party itself is in the process of being corrupted by a Clinton—again. Megan McCardle writes:

“Democrats will …devote their time to coming up with excuses for her behavior, or reasons that it’s really not a big deal that the secretary of state structured her communications to avoid leaving a checkable record. They have to, because jettisoning Hillary Clinton at this point would almost certainly mean losing the race in 2016. She has drawn in all the donor funds and media attention that would normally have been spread among several candidates. There is no one ready to step into that vacuum, and it is already too late to start grooming someone new.”

They don’t have to be corrupt. They could choose to honor their party, the nation and the intelligence of the voters. Seriously–a major party really reasons that it is better to nominate an untrustworthy, incompetent, arrogant, reckless and secretive liar than to hustle to find a candidate who is, like, worthy of the office? How can anyone trust any candidate nominated by any party that reasons like this? Isn’t the obvious, ethical thing to do in this situation to announce that…

“Mrs. Clinton’s disturbing conduct regarding her official communications, intentionally skirting her own agency’s policies, endangering security and undermining public confidence, combined with the recent revelations that her foundation has allowed and is allowing contribution from foreign governments, must disqualify her from consideration as a Presidential candidate”?

It does, you know. If they don’t know, then that is the mark corrupted leadership, and a corrupt party.

You can spot the corrupt among journalists, officials, Clinton toadies like Davis ,and your friends. They are going to adopt one of these invalid rationalizations —the numbers reference the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations  List:

1. “Everybody does it,” (#1) “They’re just as bad,” (#2) “Why pick on her?” (#39)

The favorite focus of this line of defense is the fact that former Secretary of State Colin Powell used both a government account and a private one while leading the State Department during George W. Bush’s first term. But that was over a decade ago before e-mail became the standard communication it is; the regulations were different, and, frankly, people trust Colin Powell more than Hillary, for good reason. Defenders cite Republicans like Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Scott Walker, all of whom have various issues with their e-mail, but none were involved in foreign affairs and high security matters, none of whom were intentionally violating their own governments explicit policies, and most of all, so what? The fact that some Republicans may have been trying to cover up their words and deed doesn’t make what Hillary did acceptable.

2. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” (#33)

When you are dealing with the security of the nation and the trustworthiness of leadership, there is no small stuff. Anyway, this is a deceptive excuse that erects a straw man: transparency isn’t trivial, especially when inveterate deceivers like the Clinton are involved.

3. “No laws were broken” ( #5)

That’s really not the issue. The conduct was reckless and unethical, as I explained above. The corrupted will argue that Hillary’s private account had no impact on official record-keeping because any email she sent or received to anyone else in the government would have been preserved on that employee’s end. Funny: I don’r recall the policy being, “make sure one of the State employees in an e-mail exchange always have a government account.” And how do we know that she wasn’t communicating with others who had personal accounts, on their personal accounts? We don’t.  Huma Abedin, Hillary’s top aide, had her own clintonemail.com address, for example. What about emails Clinton exchanged with foreign leaders or private individuals outside the U.S. government relating to government business? This argument is so dishonest that it screams coverup, or perhaps, “I’m so gullible anything Hillary says is aces with me!”

4. “She’s too important to get upset about things like this” (#11, The King’s Pass, and #13, the Saint’s Excuse)

…and maybe from now on, “Gloria Borger’s Deception,” combining them.

5. “This is just Republican/Conservative Hillary bashing.”

This isn’t a rationalization, just the ad hominem tactic: you don’t like the critics, so pay no attention to the criticism. This has become a standard issue defense any time Democrats are caught, and Republicans, when the positions are reversed. Yes, when you have been corrupted and have no real defense, this is where you might end up.

Listen to yourself, for God’s sake.

Let me close by noting that not everyone is corrupted this time, and some journalists who have been too quick to defend Obama and the Democrats on other matters are demonstrating some journalistic vigor and integrity on this issue. (I will, for now, give them the benefit of the ethics doubt  and presume that they are reacting this way to inform the public, and not, as some have suggested, because they fear that Hillary will not be a strong standard-bearer for the party they always vote for and they want to stop her.) The Washington Posts’ Ruth Marcus, for example, posed this series of questions that she feels Clinton should answer.

1) They are excellent.

2) They show what is so wrong about Clinton’s conduct.

3.) Clinton will never answer them.

But here they are. Hillary has corrupted many, but maybe, just maybe, not enough.

1. Why did you make the decision to use a personal email account rather than government email upon becoming secretary of state?

2. Why did you believe this approach was necessary and/or preferable to using an official e-mail account?

3. Did others working for you at the State Department use personal e-mail for government business? If so, please identify them and explain whether their correspondence has been transferred to the State Department.

4. Would it have been appropriate for others working for you at the State Department to use personal e-mail for official purposes? If not, why does a different standard apply to the secretary?

5. What steps did you or others working on your behalf take before making this decision to determine whether it complied with applicable laws and regulations, and whether your communications would be adequately secured?

6.Specifically, did you consult with officials at the State Department, the White House, or other government agencies to determine whether this approach was permissible?

7. If not, why not, given the obvious questions about compliance with federal disclosure laws and concerns about cybersecurity?

8. If you did consult with officials, what were you advised? Please provide copies of any e-mail or other correspondence/documentation reflecting these consultations.

9. If you were advised that applicable laws and regulations did not permit and/or counseled against the use of private e-mail, why did you decide to proceed with that plan?

10. Please explain how the decision to rely on personal email and not to provide the records until after your departure and after being requested complies with, as your spokesman has said, “the letter and spirit of the rules.”

11.Specifically, C.F.R. 1236.22, which dates from 2009, provides that “agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that Federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system.” What steps did you take to comply with this requirement?

12. When e-mails were turned over to the State Department last year, who in your office determined what e-mails constituted official business and what standards did they use to make that determination? Did anyone from the State Department oversee or vet this process to ensure that all relevant e-mails were supplied?

13. In 2007, criticizing the George W. Bush White House during the controversy over fired U.S. attorneys, you decried the use of “secret White House e-mail accounts” to conduct government business. Please explain how your use of personal e-mail differed.


Sources: CNN, Bloomberg, Wapo 1, 2, Slate 1, 2

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts, and seek written permission when appropriate. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, credit or permission, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at jamproethics@verizon.net.

32 thoughts on “Hillary Clinton and the E-mails: A Case Study In Ethics Corruption

  1. There seems to be a point in the careers of celebrities in any area of endeavor where they can persuade themselves that they can flout the ethical restrictions of “lesser folk”… to include their own supporters. This is their supreme test of character. It’s also a test of their supporters’ as well. Some just cannot let go of their idol and repeat the publicist’s excuses for them. Others have the courage to judge fairly and make the break; sadder, but wiser. It’s the former type that keeps these tarnished heroes going and leads them to even greater excesses, knowing from this that they can get away with actions that defy all ethics. Then they come to the point where they will defy them with no other purpose but the thrill of doing so. “Because they can.” That’s when they truly become a menace.

  2. Hillarity (sic) is in her 5th decade (going back to being fired from the Watergate HJC for trying to deny a sitting President his Constitutional rights) as an inveterate, reflex liar.

    We’ve all known people that, if they had to cross the street to do things right or travel around the world to do them wrong, would take the long way each and every time.

    She’s one of those people.

    I honestly believe she is incapable of telling the truth

  3. All those rational diagnoses are just summarized as an iron-clad belief that Rank Has Its Privledges. It shouldn’t, no one is that far above the little people.
    I desperately wish there was a way to identify the ‘Chester Arthurs’ and hope they get through the rough and tumble of the campaign so I even get to vote for them in even the primary. It’s already over for the most promising by the time my state has the primary and all I have to coose are bad choices.

  4. “… jettisoning Hillary Clinton at this point would almost certainly mean losing the race in 2016. She has drawn in all the donor funds and media attention that would normally have been spread among several candidates. There is no one ready to step into that vacuum, and it is already too late to start grooming someone new.”

    The thought that it’s too late for a candidate to appear who would be better that those on offer from either party is the most depressing thing about your post.

  5. Thanks Jack. Great essay. The Clintons really are menaces and you’ve described why. As are the Hollywood and entertainment people. They, among others, are the modern day equivalent of the Greek mythical gods, who didn’t behave very well but didn’t care because it didn’t matter. This is the reason I’m pretty sure we live in an essentially pagan society. The beings at the top are idolized (deified?) and can do as they wish. Frankly, I find the Hollywood set’s ability to strew ex-spouses (and non-spouses?) and children all over the place more destructive of the social fabric, but that’s just a personal preference.

  6. DEMs ain’t that dumb to go to POTUS 2016 Abattoir. They kept Hillary as losing candidate alas kingmaker to make it easy for GOP to retake the WhiteHouse. I ain’t surprised that Obama denied any knowledge about the elementary trust breach in Hillary’s emails fuckups. 4 years in State Department proved that Hillary mentally ain’t clutching POTUS 2016. Whitehouse 2016 is on sale at $8B this season. Hillary ain’t got that money neither any GOP Kochsucker but can be arranged if POTUS-hopeful from either party is confident to fuck USA as Obama and Bush ‘the kid’ did in two terms. Now here’s a loose change.. We got bill Clinton as FLOTUS-Hopeful.

  7. Watching the Sunday talk shows—every Democrat and liberal taking head has mouthed one of the phony rationalizations above, or used Begala’s dismissal: Colin Powell, it’s no big deal, Hillary-bashing, the public doesn’t care (that is, is too stupid), it’s not illegal, so it’s not wrong. How can these people look at themselves in the mirror?

  8. Corruption files:Carter Eskew, WaPo Blogger writes of Hillary’s e-mail problem:

    “Someone who is willing to go out and defend her and rain some fire on the Republican candidates will gain first-mover advantage in the running-mate sweepstakes. And that person will be doing the party a service: Democrats may have worries and doubts about Clinton, but when they look at their current bench, they might remember to do a better job of protecting their star.”

    Can you believe that nonsense? No, you slimy hack, someone would do the party a service if he or she declared that this lying, secretive, rule-breaking, law-skirting manipulator is a disgrace to the Democratic Party, and that if integrity and valued mean anything, they should reject her immediately.

    And “protecting their star”???? Stars don’t need to be protected unless they ARE NOT stars! That’s like someone saying local sportswriters have a duty to defend the team’s .200 batting, homerless, error prone shortstop because he’s the team’s star! How long can a star act like a hapless, untrustworthy bum before he stops being a “star” any more? How long will it take Democrats to notice that Hillary passed this point a long time ago?

    • That’s how they think, Jack. Their purpose, as they see it, is to win elections by whatever means necessary. To their outlook, Hillary Clinton is the only truly viable candidate for the White House that they have. Every other one is so flawed that no amount of sympathetic media coverage can obscure their inadequacies. Even against a mediocre Republican candidate, it’s a matter of Hillary or nothing. Thus, she’ll be defended and shielded from any allegation or indictment, no matter what or how verifiable.

      • There are always tipping points. I saw this coming; I just didn’t know what. What’s the over/under on how many more scandals/gaffes and self-inflicted wounds she’ll have before the convention? Four? Ten? She has no Teflon.

        My guess is that she pulls out, citing health concerns to save face.

        • If it keeps on coming like it has been, she’ll become unviable, all right. It’s possible that the “tipping point” has already occurred. If it has or comes about, the Democrats will be searching high and low for a dark horse candidate with a minimum of personal baggage that they can spin into a “non-insider” kind of candidate. It actually worked with Jimmy Carter! If it can be made to work in the wake of a disastrous Democrat administration is another question.

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